interviewBy Austine Odo
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in southern Africa. The country's fortunes have for almost three decades been tied to President Robert Mugabe, the pro-independence campaigner who wrested control from a small white community and became the country's first black leader. A power-sharing deal between his party, the ZANU PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change was agreed after the 2008 polls with hopes that Mr Mugabe might be prepared to relinquish some of his powers. The partnership was shaky and often acrimonious, but the coalition succeeded in agreeing a new constitution, which was approved by referendum ahead of fresh elections in 2013. But while the ruling party is gearing for the poll on July 31, the opposition says reforms brought by the new constitution must take shape before. The MDC's Vice President who is also Zimbabwe's Deputy Prime Minister, Thokazani Kupe, spoke to Daily Trust in Abuja yesterday on the unfolding scenario. Excerpts;
Welcome to Nigeria. What are you doing in Nigeria?
There is an organisation called the Global Power Women Network in Africa, an organisation that comprises female ministers and female members of parliament, members of the civil society, women dealing with HIV/AIDS, cultural leaders and women from the judiciary. This network was inaugurated in May last year in Zimbabwe and I am the inaugural president. So this year we are having our second summit and I am handing over the presidency to Nigeria.
Your party is not very comfortable with the forthcoming presidential election holding at the end of July, but the ruling party, ZANU PF, wants it that way, if anything, they have agreed to shift it by two weeks, how does your party view this two-week extension?
First of all I would like to say that our election is not about the date as such, it is process-driven. There are certain things that are supposed to be done before an election is held. As far as the MDC is concerned, we can have the election tomorrow because we have always been prepared for any elect ion, but what we are saying is that if we are able to do all those things that are supposed to be done before July 31, we don't have any problem. Security sector reforms, media reforms, electoral reforms, all these things are supposed to be done. The reason why the inclusive government was formed was in order to ensure that they level the playing field. So by levelling the playing field we are supposed to make sure that every political party is given the same time to be able to advertise or market their manifestos to the people to tell the electorate what they are promising them because you can only be voted in when you tell your electorate what you are going to do for them. But right now we are not being given any media space, our media is only covering one political party. When I am talking about the media I'm talking about the state media, they are only covering ZANU PF and no other party. So we are saying we want equal coverage and that is the reason why we said say we want multiplicity of media so that people will get the choice to say I'm going to listen to this or that radio station or read this or that newspaper. All this is not available in Zimbabwe. Security sector reform--you know that security forces are supposed to serve the government of the day, but our own security forces have made pronouncements that they would not support anybody who did not go to war so even if Morgan Tsavangrai wins an election they will not agree that he take over, this is what they have said. And we are saying this is not right. The security forces are supposed to serve this inclusive government and are supposed to treat leaders of the inclusive government equally--the president and the prime minister, so this is why it is important that security sector reforms are done, so that the security forces stick to their core business--that of maintaining peace and order in our country rather than supporting political parties. We want them to be apolitical.
What specific issues are you talking about?
They are issues to deal with our Public Order and Security Act and our access to information Act because we are talking about freedom of association, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly. All these things are not there, you cannot hold a meeting because the police will tell you we are supposed to give you permission to hold a meeting and yet our laws do not say that. So that is why it is important that our laws are realigned to the new constitution, so all these things that are supposed to be done before the election is held. At the same time we are supposed to be registering voters, every person who is eligible is supposed to be registered in order to be able to vote after that they are supposed to inspect the voters' roll in order to see if their names are there. All these things are not happening, and we are saying how then are people going to vote when their names are not appearing on the voters' roll because we've had instances where names some of those who voted in 2005 are missing in the current voters' roll. There are so many anomalies with the voters' roll we have right now. And again they are using the 2005 boundaries which is causing a lot of complications, this is why we are saying that we want a proper system where voters are going to be registered, where voters are going to check their names, where voters are going to be prepared so that by the time we go for an election all these things are done. That is why we are saying as the MDC we are prepared for election anytime but as long as all these things are done before July 31 we don't have any problems. But there is no way we can for an election without these things being done, it will be a waste of time. It's like we are going back to 2008. For us in the MDC we don't want an election for the sake of it, we want an election that is credible, an election that is legitimate, an election that is free and fair, and most importantly, an election that is going to reflect the will of the people.
How long does the MDC thing it would take these reforms to take shape before the party becomes convinced to have an election?
It doesn't take time, all we need is the political will to do these things. It doesn't take time, you know you go to parliament, you can factor the laws, we can do these before July 31. Everything I'm talking about can be done before July 31.
What has been done about it?
Nothing has been done about it.
If the election goes ahead as things are now, will the MDC participate or boycott it?
I cannot tell you what is going to happen right now, because as you know there was a summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which looked at the Zimbabwean issue, and SADC instructed that we go back to make sure that all the reforms are done before elections are held. So we can't answer that question right now because we don't know what is going to happen. We will cross the bridge when we get there but for now we are still optimistic, we are still confident that something is going to happen before the 31st of July.
The security forces are saying they would only support those who fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe, in that case do you see any need for an election in the first place?
That is why SADC is saying security chiefs must make statements so that they pronounce that they don't support any political party, all they are doing is saving the government of the day, SADC has told them what they are supposed to do, because this is their core business and we are hoping that they will definitely do that because we don't want any chaos again in Zimbabwe. I don't think there is anybody who wants chaos in Zimbabwe, you know of the situation in the 2008 election-there was no food, there was no fuel, no electricity, people were dying from cholera, I don't think there is anybody who wants the situation to go that way, no one wants the situation to slide back, so I believe the security chiefs as well wouldn't want us to go that way. I hope that they are going to change their minds, I hope that they are going to listen to SADC and make sure that the election will be free and fair.
How comfortable is the MDC with this open support of ZANU PF by the security forces?
What the surety forces must understand is that they know where Zimbabwe was in 2008, and they know where we are right now. With us coming into the government we managed to change things, we managed to give food to our people we managed to do all the things that we could do, and therefore they must know that the MDC has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that they can change the situation, that they can turn around the economy, because for us it's not just about power or about ego or whatever, it's about the people, they must put the people first, the security forces must understand that we must put the people first because we are there as government because of our people and not because of anything else and they must desist from those pronouncements, they must make sure they respect all the leaders and this inclusive government for the good of the people of Zimbabwe.
Nigeria is a country that is always concerned about happenings in other parts countries, especially within Africa, has your party in any way approached the Nigerian government to see how to get these things right, especially concerning your differences with ZANU PF?
Yes, we have done that, and I would like to thank President Goodluck Jonathan because I think his input has been very valuable to our situation. He has been talking to others and I think even at ECOWAS level they've been talking about Zimbabwe. And the reason why things are getting better is because their voices are being heard. But we have approached them and have had discussion with them and updated them on the current situation in our country, they really appreciate and understand and have been talking to other leaders to make sure that they call our people to order.
Do you sincerely think the next election in Zimbabwe will be peaceful, free and fair, deep down in your mind?
From the look of things right now, I don't want to lie to you, as long as we do not deal with the issues to deal with the Public Order and Security Act, access to information, the voters' roll, the security sector reform, the media reform, there is no way the election can be free and fair.
Is the MDC afraid of defeat?
We are not afraid of defeat because the MDC has always been winning elections since 2000. Our party was formed in 1999. We participated in the 2000 election, we won but it was rigged, we participated in the 2002 presidential election, we won again, we participated in 2005, the MDC has always been winning, in 2008 the MDC emerged the winner although they tried to manipulate the vote but we still emerged winners. My president, president Tsvangirai said no, let us be magnanimous, let us try and be accommodating, let us work with these guys so that we get a smooth transition for the good of our people, this is the reason why we agreed to form a government with these people, otherwise the MDC had won the election, we have always won elections we don't have any problem, we have got all the support in our country, and the people of Zimbabwe wholly support us, because we know that we are able to deliver real change to them.